I have become blithely dependent on strangers to drive me around and buy my toiletries. I used to have common sense. Now I have mobile apps. Now I uber. Everywhere. To work, the corner shop, even — without irony — the brisk jog to the gym. I might as well uber to the fridge. It is possible that I single-handedly induced surge-pricing throughout 2017. My only apologia? I am exquisitely dyslexic and cannot possibly find my way anywhere before 3pm unless it is in a taxi.
On-demand economies haven’t just disrupted traditional industries, they’ve capsized my former, very acceptable habits. Like taking the bus short distances. Cooking food. Assembling flat-pack furniture in tears. There used to be a pride to my prudence. Now I am living life on a whim. With every finger-swipe I am one convenience closer to becoming an unhinged Cleopatra, dropping money on-demand like pearls into vinegar. Impatience and despotism have seeped into my personal life. When we moved to DC, I packed my true love off to Ikea on-demand. One hour before it closed. On a Saturday night. To furnish our entire house. And — oh — the disdain our household heaped on Amazon Prime when we discovered that — in DC — delivery of absolutely anything our hearts desire takes 48 hours.
As verbs go, “demand” used to be a lexical black sheep. What happened? Did somebody spray-paint it white? When did it get fleeced of its shame? When did demanding anything — let alone everything — become properly acceptable? Sold as gateways to ease and convenience, on-demand apps are really about getting other people to do menial stuff without having any relationship with them. As far as social contracts go, that puts the app in both appalling and appealing.
Living life on-demand has made me lazy. Poor. Monstrous. A berk who thinks waiting is outrageous; who would rather set herself on fire than wait any longer than seven minutes for a driver to magically appear and take her wherever she desires.
I didn’t understand the extent of my addiction until my annual breakdown. Every January I have a breakdown. My tax expenses breakdown. Or “A Portrait of Being an Artist as a Dumb Plan”. As I am both self-employed and self-flagellating, I balance my own books. If you have an accountant or are PAYE, let me break it down for you. January is a solitary hike through the badlands of my annual expenditure. It is the month I realise I spent the price of a holiday on instant food-delivery services. Parched, desperate, I stumble across an oasis of savings. Chastened, I hand these savings over to the taxman. HMRC — Her Majesty’s Reality Check. Simpering. Grateful for the lesson. Eager to pay for my profligacy.
After my last breakdown, one thing is clear. Last tax period the on-demand economy danced the bossa nova through my bank account. The internet is surely to blame. She created this culture of demand. And she has ruined me. She is the most demanding diva I know. She hosts a noisy bacchanal in my inbox seven days a week, my battery life strip-teasing towards red. She uploads 6,000 hours of video every hour to YouTube, elbowing me towards her box office hits. She is forever unread, unrefreshed, unanswered and unceasingly making demands of me. Maybe that is why I have begun to demand so many things through her?
Or maybe it is because I live in a new city. Living in a new city is demanding. On-demand helps. But it is the people on-demand who really make the difference. These days I uber to crowded rooms full of unfamiliar faces. There is a comfort in the predictable format of hailing a ride; something touching about sharing someone else’s space as they cruise past the vast, backlit monuments of Washington at night. Nestled in the quietude of the back seat, conversations with drivers are nearly always more intimate, more relaxed than those on my arrival. Drivers tell me how rough my area used to be, how they never used to come to this neighbourhood; how DC has changed. One described the topography of the Blue Ridge Mountains; another, how the city’s grid system works. I’ve met a line chef who is opening her own restaurant; a PhD searching for a cure for diabetes; an entrepreneur importing German slow-cookers; a DC DJ; a navy veteran; a mother; a political refugee from Ethiopia. I’ve met America. On demand.
The taxman’s taken all Jenny Lee’s dough